Early Edition: December 1, 2020

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours.

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news

US DEVELOPMENTS

Referring to President Trump’s recent pardon of his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, the Justice Department yesterday argued before a federal court, again, that the criminal case against Flynn be dropped — “The president’s pardon, which General Flynn has accepted, moots this case,” the department’s filing to the court argued. Following Flynn’s initial admission of guilt, he later sought to change his plea to not guilty, which was followed by Attorney General William Barr asking the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, to drop the case, which Sullivan refused to do and instead appointed a retired judge to investigate further. The pardon apparently clears “Flynn from anything related to the investigation the FBI conducted into his contacts with Russia; his cooperation during the Mueller investigation and other cases Mueller could have investigated; and his disclosures about secretly lobbying for Turkey in 2016 before becoming Trump’s first national security adviser … [and it] also appears to excuse Flynn from telling the federal court under oath that he is guilty of his crimes and, later, claiming he is innocent,” report Katelyn Polantz and Caroline Kelly for CNN.

Head of Defeat-ISIS Task Force Christopher Maier yesterday resigned from his senior Pentagon position, the latest episode in the Pentagon purge, with a Defense Department official stating that Maier’s resignation was accepted by acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller. An official statement also said that Maier’s responsibilities and duties “will be absorbed” by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict and the regionally focused staffs of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The statement added that “these changes recognize the success of the military fight to destroy the so-called physical caliphate of ISIS and reflect [Department of Defense] DoD’s commitment to institutionalize efforts to counter ISIS and integrate efforts with allies and partners within our counterterrorism and regional policy offices.” Ryan Browne reports for CNN.

Trump campaign lawyer Joe DiGenova said yesterday that Christopher Krebs, the former director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) who was recently fired, should be “shot” for publicly contradicting the president’s conspiracy theories on voter fraud. “Anybody who thinks the election went well, like that idiot Krebs who used to be the head of cybersecurity. That guy is a class A moron. He should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot,” said DiGenova during an appearance on “The Howie Carr Show.” Matthew Choi reports for POLITICO.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman  associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the former of whom helped Giuliani gather information of President-elect Joe Biden  yesterday pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud investors of over $2 million between 2012 and 2019 in an effort to finance a business called “Fraud Guarantee.” Jonathan Stempel and Karen Freifeld report for Reuters.

The Navy will decommission the USS Bonhomme Richard, the amphibious assault ship that caught fire in July in San Diego, service officials announced yesterday, stating that after “thorough consideration” a decision had been taken to scrap the ship “due to the extensive damage,” with the costs to repair it too high to justify. Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN’S TRANSITION OF POWER

President-elect Joe Biden yesterday received his first President’s Daily Brief since winning the election. Geoff Bennett, Rebecca Shabad and Dareh Gregorian report for NBC News.

Three potential nominees for Biden’s new Defense Secretary lie in the pipeline, people familiar with internal discussions have told CNN. Those nominated include: veteran Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and retired Army general Lloyd Austin. Jeff Zeleny reports for CNN.

President Trump’s US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said yesterday that Biden’s transition to presidency would be “smooth” and “seamless,” the latest Trump administration official to acknowledge Biden’s victory, despite Trump’s refusal to concede. “We are going to have a smooth transition so they have all the information they need to determine what the policy is,” Hutchison said, adding, “I think there will be a seamless transition.” Ellen Mitchell reports for The Hill.

TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND US ELECTION RESULTS

President Trump has raised around $170 million since Election Day from donations given to fund his campaign’s operation challenging the US election vote, although only a small amount has been used for that purpose, according to a source familiar with the matter. “The fine print shows that the first 75 percent of every contribution currently goes to a new political action committee that Mr. Trump set up in mid-November, Save America, which can be used to fund his political activities going forward, including staff and travel. The other 25 percent of each donation is directed to the Republican National Committee,” report Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman for the New York Times. Much of the money was raised within the first week following the election result; and donors would have to pay $5000 in order for any of their donations to go towards Trump’s recount account. Although there is no official breakdown of what the $170 million has been spent on, it has been reported that a large chunk would have been used to pay of any remaining Trump campaign debt, and is “also likely to provide Mr. Trump with a sizable financial head start in paying for his post-presidency political activities.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has confirmed that state officials are investigating four third-party groups that have attempted to register people in other states to vote in Georgia, although he made clear that he doesn’t support claims of widespread voter fraud in the state’s election results. Raffensperger also said the state’s machine recount of the votes is set to be completed by tomorrow. Alexa Corse reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Election officials in Arizona and Wisconsin yesterday certified President-elect Joe Biden victorious in their respective states’ election results. Zach Montellaro reports for POLITICO.

US RELATIONS

The UAE is funding Russia’s mercenary presence in Libya, according to a report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General for counterterrorism operations in Africa, which says the Arab nation is financing Russian Wagner Group, a private military contractor, to cloak its own role in the Libyan conflict. The report comes following proposals for a $23 billion arms sale of U.S. F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to consider in a closed hearing yesterday evening. “Now there appears to be a permanent Russian presence on the flank of NATO, and it was enabled by a U.S ally,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The overall impression that I have had for a very long time is that Wagner is being completely funded by foreign contracts,” said Kimberly Marten, a professor of political science at Barnard College. May Mackinnon and Jack Detsch report for Foreign Policy

29 arms control and human rights organisations have signed a joint letter opposing the US’s disputed arms sale to the UAE. “The hope is to stop these sales altogether,” said Seth Binder, advocacy officer at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), who led the effort, adding, “But if that is not possible in the short term, this sends an important signal to the incoming Biden administration that there is a diverse group of organizations that oppose delivery of these weapons.” Al Jazeera reporting.

A breakthrough agreement between the Taliban and Afghan government has been impaired after the document’s preamble was disputed by the Taliban for expressly referring to the Afghan government by name, “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.” “The negotiating teams have so far agreed on all 21 articles that provide guiding principles for the negotiations,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi said in a statement on yesterday, adding, “At this time, they continue to debate the preamble, in which some issues need further clarification.” Hamid Shalizi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Charlotte Greenfield report for Reuters.

The US has blacklisted a Chinese defense firm, China National Electronics Import & Export Corp., over accusations it sold goods to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro which facilitated his repressive regime, the Treasury Department confirmed, stating that the firm has aided Maduro’s government to restrict internet access and conduct digital surveillance and cyber operations against Maduro’s political opponents. Ian Talley reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying yesterday accused US officials of allowing law enforcement personnel to harass Chinese airline and shipping crews that arrive in the US in an effort to target Communist Party members, warning that Beijing may retaliate against what it called provocative behavior. Chun Han Wong reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The US and Australia will join forces to develop new hypersonic cruise missiles in an effort to counter similar developments by China and Russia, Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said on Tuesday. Al Jazeera reporting.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander Muslim Shahdan was killed in a drone attack Sunday while crossing the al-Qa’im border between Syria and Iraq, several Arab media outlets have reported. Three additional people were also killed as Shahdan’s car crossed into Syria. However, Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese network Al-Mayadeen has denied the reports. Jack Khoury reports for HAARETZ.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 13.54 million and now killed over 268,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 63.34 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.470 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

Dr. Scott Atlas, the controversial White House coronavirus adviser who has been criticized for his coronavirus strategy, resigned yesterday, according to a letter posted on his Twitter account. Dan Diamond reports for POLITICO.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)